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As the winter calendar turned a page to February, the Indians' boys' hoops squad heated up with two straight wins in as many nights to move closer to a postseason berth, a task that could be accomplished with a win versus SCC Hammonasset Division rival Foran at home on Feb. 1. Despite the atmosphere of a playoff game on their gym juiced up by a packed fan section, the Indians lost an always-tough and competitive divisional contest to the Lions, 50-43, a game which saw Foran lead from the first tip to the final buzzer. Even with the game not seeing a Guilford edge at any juncture, the Indians' chief was still pleased with the hustle and heart his group put forth on the floor, including a big response to late adversity.
"This was a hard, tough, SCC kind of a game. We got beat, but I am proud of our guys tonight, they are making progress," said Head Coach Jeff DeMaio, whose club fought back from an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit to bring the game within three. "Foran stretched the lead after an up and down game, and then we fought hard. We try to pressure teams into steals with the ball, and we do a good job of that. We bothered them a little bit in spots. Yet offensively, they got the ball inside and their big guys finished inside."
Despite the divisional loss, junior forward Luke Dombrowski led all Indians with 16 points, while senior guard Nick Moretti followed with 15. Although the Indians earned 32 boards (with 16 on each side of the ball), it was a contest that saw the home squad shoot 19-for-62 from the field.
"The difference tonight was the foul line, and Foran made its shots," remarked DeMaio on Guilford, which shot 2-for-6 from the charity stripe. "I thought they outplayed us tonight. We played ok, but we made some mistakes and they made a few more plays than we did."
Foran earned the first bucket of the matchup, but Dombrowski banged inside to get his team on the board. The Lions (7-8, 4-3 in SCC Hammonasset) would try to create some early space and go up 8-4, but senior center Andrew Kelly (2 points) made it a two-point game with a pair of free throws. Indians' sophomore guard Shaun Ross would intercept a Foran pass, yet the Lions recovered from two late turnovers to hold a 10-6 edge after a quarter.
Guilford (7-8, 3-4 in SCC Hammonasset) set out to even the score in the second as Moretti nailed a long two-pointer to kick things off. After a pair of buckets from Dombrowski and one from Foran's senior forward in Casey McCone, the Indians' defense, earning 19 steals as a unit on the night, began to take Foran out of rhythm. In addition to three blocks by Dombrowski, Guilford forced the Lions to commit four turnovers to make it a 19-16 score. The Lions would not be totally tamed though, scoring a trio to lead 22-16 at the break.
The halftime break did little to cure Foran of the turnover bug as Guilford nabbed two quick steals to cut the deficit to two. After a Foran basket, junior forward J.P. Barrett (5 points) then earned one of the Indians' eight total blocks in the contest before Moretti knocked down a midrange jumper to make it 24-22. The shot woke the Lions up, going on a 6-0 run to make it 30-22 with three minutes left in the frame. Barrett then responded with a three from the top of the key to cut the Lions' lead to five. Foran would then score two baskets to the Indians' one as the third concluded with a 34-27 Foran edge.
A sense of urgency seemed to hit Guilford as the final eight minutes began with Moretti draining another shot beyond the arc to make it 34-30 before he hit for two following a Foran deuce. The Lions would again go on a mini scoring spurt, this time a 7-0 run, to bring their lead to 11. The Indians would not go quietly on their own floor, however, answering back with an 8-0 run and a 43-40 hole. Even with a three-pointer from junior guard Will Cofrances (five points), the Lions (shooting 19-for-25 from the free-throw line) would make their foul shots down the stretch to seal the win.
Leading up to the matchup with Foran, the Indians defeated SCC foes East Haven and Law on Jan. 30 and Jan. 31.Versus the Yellowjackets of East Haven, the Indians won 65-40 led by Barrett (12 points) and Morretti (11 points). Against the Eagles one night later in a dominating 67-25 victory, Moretti had 12, while Cofrances chipped in with 11. Despite three games in as many days, DeMaio gives no excuses on the Foran loss and the road ahead.
"There were no excuses tonight; I thought our legs were fresh out there," commented DeMaio after the loss. "Is it tough? Yes, but the SCC is tough. We have winnable games ahead and have our goals right in front of us. We just have to keep grinding."